So that’s me. Super close. No make-up. Some days I’m good with that face. Some days less.
* * *
Growing up, almost everyone goes through an awkward phase.
Me, I went through an agonizing phase. Like a Spanish Inquisition phase (and who expects that?). I did the braces, the headgear – my teeth looked like they’d been in tiny car crashes with each other – sported vast ranges of throbbing red and yellow zits, and – I shit you not – rocked a Farrah Fawcett winged mullet with a spiral perm in the back.
Sad fucking mess, y’all. Sad fucking mess.
‘Course, all that sucked on its own, but when I was 12, I also had an unfortunate crush on one of the most popular boys at my school, Scott S.
“Unfortunate,” because when you’re poor, nerdy and – let’s be honest – at the least attractive point in your entire life – not to mention wielding a bottomless abyss where your self-esteem should be – WOW, lemme tell you, are you guy bait.
Still, I fantasized about slow-dancing with Scott S. in the gym at the school dance, getting roses on Valentine’s Day, him proudly introducing me to (anybody) as his girlfriend. But one day, a few minutes before the start of Geography, a friend of mine asked Scott S. if he liked me.
Scott S. laughed loudly.
“Hell no!” he shouted in the crowded classroom. “Meredyth’s a DOG!”
I was 10 feet away.
My disproportionate response was as follows:
For four solid years of high school, I DID NOT STEP FOOT OUTSIDE MY HOUSE unless my face was completely covered in concealer, foundation, powder, blush, eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara, and lipstick. In the Florida heat, this meant I looked like a melting clown for most of the day – but if you asked me, even a melting clown was better than my real face. And I did four years of that shit, day in, day out, relentlessly, exhaustingly, getting up at 5 a.m. for a 7:30 a.m. bell, just to make sure I looked “pretty.”
Just to make sure I wasn’t a DOG.
Thing is, that was nearly three decades ago, and though I’ve graduated to mostly not giving a shit (the laziness helps), every so often I’ll look in the mirror and still feel the sting of those words – “Meredyth’s a DOG!” – coupled with the feeling that looking “pretty” is the only thing that makes me worthy of, well… anything.
And what’s worse is, I’m not alone in thinking that.
* * *
I heard Sia’s “Big Girls Cry” after I bought her album “1000 Forms of Fear” (and then “We Are Born” and then “Colour the Small One” and… look, Sia is phenomenal and you should just buy all her shit, is what I’m saying). As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’d been looking for a music video to collaborate on – something simple, but that had some meaning – when I heard the lyrics:
I may cry, ruining my make-up
Wash away all the things you’ve taken
And I don’t care if I don’t look pretty
Big girls cry when their hearts are breaking
Naturally, the line about make-up was an instant flashback to high school, and suddenly the video I wanted to make unspooled in my head as if I were already watching it.
I’d found the song.
Now I just had to find some women who were willing to trust me enough to create art out of their pain.
* * *
The main goal was to tackle the idea of the beauty standard – and confront the fact that no matter how perfect the “mask” we wear, most women carry pain and insecurity about our looks underneath it. However, by allowing ourselves to transform that pain into tears, something that washes away and liberates us from the mask, we reclaim our authentic – and more authentically beautiful – selves.
With #BGCP – or Big Girls Cry Project – I wanted to dig under the make-up. I wanted to explore the feelings underneath the mask, the stories these women had to tell about their own experiences with the beauty standard. I knew I wasn’t alone in harboring the scars.
We took that classic 80’s/90’s mall staple, Glamour Shots, as our starting point.
If you’ve never heard of Glamour Shots (or don’t feel like following the link), it was a photography studio (usually in a mall) that hired a professional make-up artist and hairstylist to turn you into “your most glamorous self” – then took photos of you against incredibly ugly backgrounds, under terrible lighting, so you were DEFINITELY the most attractive thing in frame. Glamour Shots’ specialties were cheesy satin outfits, rhinestones, cowboy hats, big, big, BIG hair, and – the classic – a denim jacket with the collar popped. Basically, if there was a prop you could regret, Glamour Shots would give it to you. It was the epitome of a “beauty standard” – because all Glamour Shots had a somewhat creepy, identical feel. Same chin-tilts, same collar-pops – only the faces were different – but you couldn’t really tell that under all the make-up.
Likewise, though I had crowdsourced pretty much everything else in the shoot – studio, cameras, lighting, costumes (everyone shared stuff they brought in with everyone else; I’d put out the call for the “tackiest sexy things you own”) – I knew I needed professional make-up and hair to really drive home the point – and those were the only two paid positions on the shoot. Everything else you see was made in the name of ART! Which is to say, for free, out of the goodness of people’s hearts and their belief in the project. I will always be grateful to everyone who made #BGCP possible. I love you.
* * *
It was my Number One Priority to make sure the women in this video felt comfortable and safe – both with me and with the concept of the shoot.
“When was the first time you ‘realized’ you weren’t as pretty as the other girls?”
– was the first question I asked them all on camera. Yes, it was a mean question. An intentionally mean question, like poking a dentist’s tool right into a nerve. Combing through the footage to edit the video, I can’t tell you the number of times I cried, hearing the stories that arose from my asking it. (And believe me, I felt like a total shitheel for asking – but I wanted to immediately break through their defenses – a shock and awe introduction to the process, if you will.)
But that mean question? Every woman had an answer to it.
Every. Single. One.
With the camera running, I led them through dark topics, dark memories. All the tears you see in the video are real. These women discussed the ways the beauty standard had hurt them, left them scarred, left them feeling unworthy. By the end of the day, half of me wanted to sleep for 20 years, and the other half of me wanted to gather all these women in my arms and never let them go. It literally hurt something inside my chest: couldn’t they all see how amazing and gorgeous they were? And yet, what got me through it – maybe what got us all through it – was the laughter that came after the tears. Despite the emotional trauma we’d just been through together, the joking, the clowning, the teasing amongst ourselves helped us cope.
Women are remarkably good at that, remarkably resilient. Because we have to be.
And I want to share that with the world.